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Volume 719: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what the process will be for reviewing quangos across government.

My Lords, the coalition Government are committed to increasing the accountability of public bodies and to bringing forward a Bill in the autumn.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Does he agree that 111,000 people are employed by quangos at a cost to the British taxpayer of more than £38 billion? Some of those quangos perform important and essential work, while others, in my view, are rather expensive talking shops, which, surely, are an undesirable luxury that cannot be afforded in today’s world. How are we to distinguish between them?

Virtue is always easy to recognise, but my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has asked for all quangos to be assessed against three main tests. First, is the function technical? Secondly, does it need to be politically impartial? Finally, do facts need to be determined transparently? My right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office will discuss the outcome of this assessment with Ministers in July and, following Cabinet agreement, publish the outcome in the autumn. He has confirmed in a Parliamentary Question in another place that cost-effectiveness and suitability will also be factors. His assessment will also ask whether the Government really need to do this and whether the function should be performed at a local level or through non-state means by either a voluntary or a private body. Furthermore, his assessment will also bear in mind costs, efficiency and the requirement for savings, including alignment with Budget and spending review requirements, and, finally, the impact of the changes on the Government’s policy objectives.

My Lords, maintaining the monarchy for the taxpayer costs 69p for every person in the United Kingdom, whereas maintaining all these quangos costs £2,500 per household. Is the cost of maintaining the quangos not an utter disgrace?

The noble Lord expresses himself powerfully. As my noble friend mentioned in her supplementary question, the cost of maintaining quangos amounts to £38.4 billion per year, which contrasts with £15.4 billion in 2002. There is a considerable problem to tackle. By dealing with it rigorously, I hope that the Government will show that they are in earnest and have purpose.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to his new role. I am sure he will agree that new Governments always talk about getting rid of quangos and not creating them. Much has been made of the importance of the Office for Budget Responsibility, which I believe is a quango. Therefore, how many quangos have the coalition Government announced or set up since they took office?

The Government are determined to ensure that any new bodies set up will satisfy the new tests. I remind the House that those tests are: is the function technical; does it need to be politically impartial; and do the facts need to be analysed transparently?

I thank the Minister for his full reply. Is it the Government’s intention to seek to consolidate quangos in order to save overheads where that can be done without necessarily winding up useful bodies? Will he undertake to consult the public before introducing legislation? This is such a vast field that there will be particular consequences of the application of the Government’s criteria which cannot be suitably dealt with during the legislative process.

My Lords, the whole point of the exercise is to make sure that the agencies of government as represented by quangos perform in the interests of the body politic. To that extent the body politic will be involved in the legislation. The country is well aware of the economic background against which these decisions will be taken and of the costs, as I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, of the existing quango structure. The Government are right to tackle that task, which they will do with determination. I hope that the Bill will be before the House in the autumn.

My Lords, many of us recognise that there are quangos and bodies that need to be reviewed and some of them may need to disappear. But can we not set up a small committee here, which will cost nothing, to try to ensure that when Questions are asked, they are answered? Can we have an answer to the question of how many commissions and quangos have been set up since the Government came to power, and can we please have the cost of them as well?

I am afraid that I cannot give the answer to that. What I am trying to do is give the House an indication of the standards by which this Government will address the whole business of public agencies and bodies. I will write to the noble Lord and, indeed, to the Leader of the Opposition who asked the question in the first place so that they are aware of the facts, but I am afraid I am not briefed on how many have been set up since the Government took office. It cannot be very many, and certainly cannot be as many as we found—966 in total—when we took office.